An ancient Indian healer named Sushruta is the first plastic surgeon on record in the world. Sushruta lived in India around 600 BCE. The epic Hindu poem, the Mahabharata describes him as the son of a legendary Hindu sage. Sushruta’s real legacy is his surgical work as detailed in his Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit text that’s still considered foundational for modern surgery. In it, he describes a wide variety of cosmetic procedures, including skin grafts and other relatively complex forms of plastic surgery.
Working in India in the 6th century BC, Sushruta had a lot of firsts, the most important of which is the “wandering” skin graft. In the wandering graft, a piece of skin is harvested for grafting in another part of the body but left attached by a small bridge of tissue.
The missing skin could regrow with the help of this vessel-rich graft, allowing Sushruta to conduct revolutionary reconstructions on damaged features. Following the use of this skin grafting technique, Felix Jean Casimir Guyon of Paris and Jacques Reverdin of Geneva started to develop more advanced skin grafts in their practice in 1869; the type that is still more or less used today.
British physicians travelled to India to see rhinoplasties being performed by Indian methods. Reports on Indian rhinoplasty performed by Dr Kumhar Vaidya, a physician were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1794. Joseph Constantine Carpue spent 20 years in India studying local plastic surgery methods. Carpue was able to perform the first major surgery in the Western world in 1815.
The term plastic surgery, from the Greek “plastikos” (fit for moulding), was coined by Pierre Desault in 1798 as a label for procedures to repair facial deformities. In the 19th century, developments in anaesthesia and antisepsis made plastic surgery safer and allowed for improvements in technique.
Plastic surgeons further honed their skills during the two world wars, then applied their techniques to victims of congenital disabilities, and automobile and industrial accidents. The first modern cosmetic rhinoplasty is reported to have been performed in 1923, and the first public facelift in 1931. Since those early years of development within the fields of materials, equipment and patient care has continued to grow.
Today, millions of people around the world voluntarily opt for plastic surgery. Americans spent more than $16 billion on cosmetic plastic surgeries and minimally invasive procedures in 2016. The global cosmetic surgery and procedure market are expected to reach $43.9 billion by 2025.
In ancient Rome, soldiers underwent plastic surgery to remove battle-scars which were considered a mark of shame.